This year Nicaragua was proud to send five competitors to the Olympic Games in Rio, competing in four sports: swimming, weightlifting, shooting, and athletics. It takes a true athlete to qualify for the Olympics, so though no medals were brought home, our Olympic stars are champions in our eyes!
As I watched the Olympic Games with my family, the question came up: “Why are there so few Nicas in the Games in comparison with other countries?” For example, the U.S. alone has 555 athletes participating in the Games! And we only have five?!
In part, it’s obviously a question of population: Nicaragua has a population of approximately 6.1 million, compared to 318.9 million in the U.S. I didn’t do the statistics, but just looking at the numbers, it’s obvious that the country with the larger population will, by the law of averages, produce more athletes. But I suspected it was more than just population ratios at play, so I googled a wealthy country with a comparable population to Nicaragua. I came up with Denmark with a population of 5.7 million. Guess how many competitors they brought to the Games? 121. And what about another poor country with a population similar to Nicaragua, like say, Libya, with 6.3 million? 7 competitors. This is obviously not a scientific study – these numbers come from Wikipedia. But I can’t help but deduce that there must be a lot of potential stars in countries like Nicaragua that, for lack of access to equipment and training, never get the chance to develop their potential.
This week, we’ve been delivering materials to our Rural Partner Schools, paid for by donations from their partners in the U.S. The parents and teachers have requested things like sound systems and costumes for their dance groups, instruments for the school band, and school supplies. These are poor agricultural communities where families barely get by. When I watch these kids running around and playing at recess, I can’t help but think that one of these could be a little Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky, but they don’t even have access to clean drinking water, much less a swimming pool. And setting aside athletics – how many potential astrophysicists or artists or airline pilots are there in these rural schools?
I don’t write this with the purpose of making you, my reader, feel guilty. I don’t even want to make you feel grateful for what you’ve got. I simply think it’s important for us to remember that the world is not a fair place. We like to imagine that the world is a meritocracy, that everybody gets what they deserve. The Olympic Games is part of this ideal – it’s a place where athletes come together and are judged and rewarded based solely on their skills, which they’ve developed out of a little bit of raw talent and whole lot of hard work. That feels good – it feels right. But it’s only in the Games, not the real world.
In the real world, most people don’t get what they deserve. The founders of Sister Communities realized this, and it was out of the solidarity they felt with the people of San Ramón, the recognition of our shared humanity, that they began this organization. In the words of one of our volunteer Board members, “During my visit to San Ramón, I just kept thinking, if my kids can go to school, why can’t the kids of San Ramón? If my kids have schoolbooks and pens and notebooks, why can’t these kids have them too?”
We know that we’re not going to make the world a fair place. But if we do something to make life a little fairer for our brothers and sisters in this tiny corner of Nicaragua, then it’s worth it. And who knows? Maybe one day some San Ramonian will take home an Olympic gold medal.